Sunday, July 29, 2012

Living my Life, by Emma Goldman

"Living my Life by Emma Goldman (1869-1940) is a work begging for a review by someone knowledgeable in the history of the workers' uprisings of the late 19th and early 20th century and the anarchist and socialist movements in the United States," writes Jo Ellen Hirsch. Hirsch is not such an historian, but she is an avid reader, and she has made her comments available to this blog:

Although I was not familiar with the many persons and events Goldman described, I was struck by her feminist perspective. Here are some of my observations - based on the first volume of this two volume work.

1) EG was Russian - and Russian culture just wasn't as sexually uptight as that of the US (my favorite Russian ruler being Catherine the Great)
2) She had a uterine ailment which she was told would keep her from getting pregnant so she chose not to have it fixed
3) She really was torn as she got a little older between domestic life and her career
4) Having gone abroad to train as a nurse and working as a midwife she had a good grasp of what too many childbirths can do and advocated for birth control (and would have liked to advocate for abortion)
5) She resented the way women were treated in the anarchist movement in the US

Regarding the history of the period, it's easier to understand EG's anarchism knowing how much she was inspired by indignation over the Haymarket affair (7 anarchists were sentenced to death over a bombing that none of them had been responsible for - the 3 that weren't actually killed were subsequently pardoned). Also the government went to rather ridiculous lengths in preventing anarchists from meeting and speaking. She remarked how much more free speech there was under various monarchies.

"Red Emma" was demonized and persecuted, at one point even denied lawful entry back into the United States. It is refreshing to hear her story in her own voice.

Living My Life (in two volumes) was reissued in 2011 by Penguin Classics.

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